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Vice's Katherine Tooley on panel 'fatigue' and being more creative with digital events

Katherine Tooley, Vice Media Group's senior vice president of experiential, and chair of The Drum Awards for experience, discusses the future of experiential marketing following a difficult year for the sector.

As people are spending more time at home and are able to consume events in a digital format, how has Vice configured its strategy to interact with its audience?

Ironically Vice, Refinery 29 and all Vice Media Group were pretty well suited for this moment because we are a digital media company first. Much of what we do in the experiential and live events world already had a halo wrapped around it in digital influencer media strategy. So we already had a pretty good digital presence for physical events. But it definitely was quite a shakeup come March when we started to realise that some of the events and the event strategy that we had planned for the year wasn't going to be possible.

We work closely with all of our partners, we were able to convert a lot of this physical events that we were planning for the year into digital and virtual. We sat down and really looked at our experiential strategy for the remainder of the year and reconfigured some of our packages and offerings that we give to clients all the time and converted them over to visual on digital experiences. We believe that a digital or virtual event done right has just as strong of an impact as a physical event. As important as experiential marketing and the physicalness of connection and being close with people is still very relevant you know, we have to meet this moment and meet our times. We were able to shift pretty rapidly and meet our partners' needs as well as develop out some of our properties further through virtual and digital events, such as Unbothered and Noisy Munchies. It was quite a pivot, but we did it.

What has been the impact on partnerships and how has Vice adjusted to these changes?

The most important thing is just being there for our partners. First and foremost being a resource for them through this time. We're all in this together. Just as much as we had to re-look at our strategy for the rest of the year and what we are offering our partners, we realised the brands and partners also had to shift marketing dollars and reset their strategy internally as well. First of all, we just wanted to be there, be a resource and really talk through all the different options that we have with our partners. Second, we're always hitting the ground running, exploring different paths and different products that we can offer our partners. We work closely with our products and engineering team to come up with formats and different types of engineered products through our .com that we could offer our partners for that, that added or additional value that they were no longer getting at the physical event.

For the most part, our partners were really receptive to switching to digital and virtual events. And still wanted to connect with our audience and found that this was the best way to do it without being able to have those IRL events. We are getting a lot of RFP as well as interest in 2021. I do see experiential coming back in a big way. We keep saying that the pendulum has swung so far in one direction with all the events being cancelled around the world that it's definitely going to swing the other way. It's really important to be able to keep our offerings fresh and up to date, and be there for our partners when events and experiential marketing does come back.

The events industry has taken a severe hit over the past few months. How do you see that recovering and how can businesses plan ahead?

It's gonna be a slow return. We're already seeing some of what we like to call hybrid events come back. That first phase, everything was all virtual, all digital. The second phase is going to be these hybrid events which are smaller, curated events that have a really big digital or virtual presence on top of it. Then the last phase will be bringing live events back in fall. Some areas of the world are probably better suited for having events earlier than others. It's definitely a wait and watch and wait and see. I'm positive because I've already seen so many hybrid events come out, run successfully and safely. That's what's important. Once people start figuring out how to even gather 50 people together safely and work that out, then they can start ramping up and having more attendees.

What are people looking for right now with experiential/events?

With digital or virtual events, it's cutting through the noise and coming out with things that no one is experiencing online. Whether it's different products that you can tap into, tapping into different talents, really taking things that you already do well. An example for me that I saw the other day that I thought was so interesting, was the High Museum in Atlanta, which is an amazing contemporary arts museum in Georgia. They partnered with Animal Crossing to feature some of their most famous paintings, in the game. I felt that that was such a cool collaboration.

At this point there's definitely a fatigue seeing online panels and workshops. We're at that point where you really got to get creative and cutting through the noise and that's really unique collaborations. I always like to remind my team that I want to do stuff in service of our audience. The whole point of experiential marketing is two way communication. I don't want to do something that someone would just sit down and watch, I want to do something where people are sitting and interacting, and there's a Q&A or they get to try something out or they have some type of physical kit sent to them that they get to follow along. I think it's so important to maintain that two way communication because remember, we're not content. We're experiential. That that gets forgotten about a lot in the virtual world. It's super important to still have that two way communication, whether that's visually physically and emotionally.

What are you looking forward to seeing with the entries this year?

It's going to be fun seeing what everyone did and it's going to be interesting looking at some of the entries from 2019. And thinking, "Oh my gosh, remember when we used to gather and all on space. Remember when we used to be able to do things outside, or remember when we used to be able to do big events and activations at South by Southwest." It's definitely going to be an interesting year to judge because we're all craving experiences so much. It's going to be very nostalgic to look back at everyone's work previously. I'm really coming in with like a total open mind and I'm excited to see all the submissions. There's definitely a couple of standouts I remember from 2019 and early 2020. But like I said, I'm going to come in with a totally open mind. I'm excited to see everyone's. And I'm just excited to look back at all the work because experience marketing was just having such a big moment in 2019 and even the early part of 2020. Even just the campaigns that we heard were about to come out were so incredible.

I'm really interested in seeing how people use connectivity and interactivity, as well as new technology to not only reach an audience, but then to also get feedback from the audience. Experiential marketing sometimes gets a bad rap for not being able to measure well, which I don't think is necessarily the case. There's a lot of mechanisms on how you can measure the effectiveness of an experiential marketing campaign or an event. So I'm interested to see how each of the brands reached and met their different KPIs, how they measured and of course, how they connected with the audience. I want to see a really full well rounded campaign.

The deadline for The Drum Awards for experience is Friday 18 September. Make sure you enter now and visit the dedicated website.